Victorian Opposition increases pressure on State Government with royal commission call

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Victoria’s Opposition is continuing to mount pressure on the State Government over its handling of COVID-19, calling for a royal commission into the state’s pandemic response.

The state recorded 37 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday, the lowest daily increase since late June, as well as six more deaths.

The 14-day average for new daily cases in metropolitan Melbourne dropped to 61.6 and regional Victoria’s dropped to 4.3.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the falling numbers were a sign that weeks of restrictions across the state were working, and urged Victorians to stick to the roadmap out of lockdown.

But the Opposition yesterday called for a return to stage 3 restrictions in Melbourne as soon as this week, the first time it had detailed an alternative plan since the roadmap was announced.

A Government report into the modelling used to underpin the roadmap found “aggressive suppression is our best bet for avoiding a yo-yo effect”.

But high-profile epidemiologists have in recent days questioned the targets for the easing of restrictions in late October, with a co-author of the modelling suggesting the thresholds could be relaxed.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien is further stepping up the pressure, urging the Government to call a royal commission into the handling of the second wave.

“We’re the only state to be suffering through a second wave, we’ve lost hundreds of lives, tens of thousands of businesses, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and millions of us are locked down,” he said.

“I think that Victorians deserve the answers, they deserve the truth, and the best way to find the truth is through a royal commission.”

Mr O’Brien said if the Government did not move to undertake the inquiry, the Coalition would promise to call one if victorious in the next election.

The next state election is scheduled for November, 2022.

An inquiry, led by former judge Jennifer Coate, is currently investigating failures in the state’s hotel quarantine system.

“We know that the problems in Victoria go well beyond that,” Mr O’Brien said.

Victoria has been criticised for its testing and tracing program, with delays prompting some doctors and industries to take things into their own hands and the Prime Minister describing NSW’s contact tracing efforts as the “gold standard”.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton yesterday said the state was “absolutely in a better position” than it was before improvements were made in the system.

Royal commission push grows steam

In its submission to a state parliamentary inquiry into the coronavirus response on June 31, the president of Australian Medical Association (AMA) Victoria said a royal commission would be “necessary in order to learn and apply lessons learned from this pandemic”.

In the same July submission, associate professor Julian Rait highlighted “missteps”, including inconsistent messaging and a lack of transparency and accountability.

The AMA has been a proponent of extending the stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne, with national president Dr Omar Khorshid last week saying it would help the state and the country ultimately recover from the pandemic faster.

Of the 716 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Victoria, the vast majority are linked to aged care — a Commonwealth responsibility.

Leading aged care health researcher Joseph Ibrahim, from Monash University, last week called for a royal commission into how the virus was able to tear through the aged care system, despite federal funding.

“We’ve spent $1.5 billion and we have 500 deaths. To me, we need to understand why we have so many deaths. Where did that money go?” he said on Thursday.

People in protective suits remove gear from the back of a car
Hundreds of aged care residents have died during the state’s second wave.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

But Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said in response that the current royal commission into aged care was enough.

When questioned about failings in the federally-run aged care system, Mr O’Brien said “the real concern” was why the second wave was able to take off in Victoria.

“These are lessons that must be learnt, and the best way to get to the bottom of it, the best way to answer those vital life-and-death questions is through a royal commission,” he said.

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